Advent 2 – Sunday, December 9, 2018

December 9, 2018  
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Philippians 1:3-11

Excerpts from St. Paul’s letters are read in church periodically, as the 2nd reading. St. Paul’s ministry is described in the book of Acts, verses from which are sometimes used as a 1st or 2nd reading, as well. And yet—how much do you know about St. Paul?

Paul was born in Tarsus, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. He was a Roman citizen with two names, as most Roman citizens had. His Jewish name was Saul. His Latin name was Paul (Wikipedia). He never met Jesus other than in a vision while on the road to Damascus. That vision led to him become a Christian.

St. Paul was a missionary, traveling around the Roman Empire establishing churches, most often the coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea. Our New Testament is full of his letters, and of letters ascribed to him written by others who greatly admired his work.

Eventually St. Paul was arrested because of the work he did with Gentiles—with those who were not Jews who converted to Christianity. As a Roman citizen St. Paul had the right to a trial in Roman Court, a right he claimed. When he finally arrived in Roman he was kept under house arrest for two years.  After house arrest he was imprisoned, and as tradition has it, he was found guilty of his crimes in Roman Court and beheaded.

Although the matter is debated, some scholars believe St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was imprisoned, not while he was under house arrest.

Verses from that letter are our second lesson—and they could not come to this congregation at a better time.

St. Paul loved the church in Philippi. His love for them is obvious in what he wrote. “I thank God every time I remember you” (1:3). “I am constantly praying with joy…for all of you” (1:4). “I long for you with the compassion of Christ Jesus” (3:8).

Paul was in prison when he wrote these words! We don’t know what his imprisonment was like. But he was confined, held prisoner until his death.

Mental illness is a disease that imprisons people, it imprisons individuals and their families, it imprisons individuals and their friends. Mental illness comes in a variety of forms and leads to a variety of behaviors… arguably the most devastating of which is suicide. Mental illness has the power to create dark holes in peoples’ minds, dark holes in their interactions with others, dark holes in their ability to cope with life.

When someone we know and love suffers from the most devastating effect of mental illness, St, Paul provides a blueprint for us—in the midst of his own suffering—that shows us how to respond to the pain and the loss we feel.

St. Paul wrote “I thank God every time I remember you.”
St. Paul wrote “I am constantly praying with joy for you.”
St. Paul wrote “I long for you with the compassion of Jesus Christ.”

And St. Paul wrote:
“…this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more” (1:9).

When we as a congregation, or when members of this congregation face devastating realities—if our foundation is true– our response will be, our response MUST be a response of overflowing love for one another.

We love those we’ve lost.
We love those who hurt.
We love those facing new realities.
We love. In the name of Jesus Christ we choose to love.

A scholar wrote “In our prayers for other Christians, do we spend enough time remembering them with joy, with confidence, and with love…?” (New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11, p. 485).

This morning we remember those we have loved and lost with joy, grateful for their presence in our lives.
This morning we remember those we have loved and lost, confident in the promises God made to them. Confident in the promises of their baptisms. This morning we remember those we have loved and have lost with joy–confident God embraces them, and loves them—always and forever.
This morning we remember those we have loved and lost with love. We remember them with the love of God that flows into our hearts and through us, to them.

A quote from Meister Eckehart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would be sufficient” (NIB, vol. 11, p. 485).

We say ‘thank you’ to God today for every person here and for those not with us. We say ‘thank you’ to God with joy. We say ‘thank you’ to God with confidence. We say ‘thank you’ to God with love.

We say thank you this morning specifically for the life of Peg VanZee. We say ‘thank you’ every time we remember her. We say ‘thank you’ with joy in our hearts.

Amen.

Advent 1 – Sunday, December 2, 2018

December 2, 2018  
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Jeremiah 33:14-16

I have been thinking about “justice.”
And I have been thinking about “righteousness.”

The New Revised Standard Version of the bible (which we use in worship) ends our reading from Jeremiah with the words “And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16b).

The New American Bible ends the same Jeremiah reading by saying “And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our Justice.”

Now, in verse 15 of the New Revised Standard Bible it is written “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness…” So we aren’t presented with an either or in the text, the writer isn’t saying we have one or the other, justice or righteousness.
I found myself wondering about the different translations, if the different translators had different agendas for what the new community of faith will become.

According to Bing.com
Justice: just behavior or treatment.
When I was teaching I never allowed my students to define a word with the same word—so Bing.com fails. To say “justice” is “just behavior” really tells us nothing.
But—they do have a secondary definition:
Justice: the quality of being fair and reasonable.
I hate the word “fair.” “Fair” is too fuzzy. “Fair” is too subjective.

“Reasonable” as a definition of “justice” starts to move in the right direction. To be reasonable is to use reason—at least according to me. And reason means logic. And logic means we are working with facts and arguments that can be defended.

According to Bing.com
Righteousness: the quality of being morally right or justifiable.
Here again we have righteousness and right… which tells us nothing.
But “morally right” gives us a clue. When we talk about morality we are talking about knowing how we ought to live, which tells us what the right thing to do is (at least according to Aristotle).
Defining “Righteousness” as “justifiable” is interesting. Because it takes us right back to an understanding of “justice.”

So let’s look at synonyms for each word.
A synonym is a word having the same meaning or roughly the same meaning.
According to Bing.com some synonyms for “justice” are validity and soundness.
That’s perfect because again, for a moral argument to be sound it has to be valid. It has to be true. It has to be logical.
Synonyms for “righteousness” are goodness and virtuous.
All of this that I have been thinking dwells in the land of ethics… we’re talking about morality.
Which is exactly what we ought to be discussing as we imagine a community of faith living according to the promises God has made to God’s people.

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.” Or, “The Lord is our Justice” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

 

We, as Christians, believe Jesus fulfills this prophecy. We believe, as Christians, that Jesus, as our leader, brought to the world Justice and Righteousness. We believe Jesus brought goodness to our world. We believe Jesus exemplified virtue.

We, as Christians, are called to live in a community of faith founded on the principles and teachings of Jesus, calling ourselves “The Lord is our Justice” or “The Lord is our Righteousness.”

And so we become servants of Justice—people who have a moral code rooted in truth. Our arguments aren’t subjective—they aren’t based on feelings of anger or sadness or pain or joy—our arguments for peace, our arguments for love– our arguments are logically developed, rooted in the principles Jesus brought to the world. Principles of love and compassion and concern for those who suffer.

And so we become servants of Righteousness—people who have a moral code rooted in truth. Our truths root themselves in our virtues—in those character traits that are manifest in habitual action that are good to have. Meaning being loving and being compassionate and being peace-makers, and being honest are all things we do without even thinking. They simply are who we are because we follow Jesus. Because we live in the community that claims “The Lord is our Righteousness.” “The Lord is our Justice.”

Our 2nd reading today includes a hope:
“…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

May those hopes live in and through us, today and always.
Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Christ the King – Sunday, November 25, 2018

November 25, 2018  
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John 18:33-37

Nations neighbor nations. And where nations neighbor, there is often conflict.
Scripture is full of stories that speak of such conflicts: one kingdom begins to grow, overlapping the boundaries between itself and its neighbors. One kingdom gains power and moves into the territories of another nation, attempting to conquer them. One nation dominates another, enslaving their people. Over and over the stories are told in the Old Testament. Over and over the stories are told in our history books.

This morning’s gospel reading is no different. Pilate is no different than rulers who proceeded him in history, he is no different than those who followed him in history when he asked Jesus a most political question: Are you the king of the Jews? (John 18:33).

The first time a king felt threatened by Jesus was at the event of his birth. A decree had gone out from Caesar Augustus which brought a young Jewish couple from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in a census. While in Bethlehem the woman gave birth to a child. The child’s birth was foretold by the stars, according to tradition, drawing kings from the East to worship the newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2). When those traveling kings explained their journey to Herod the Great, Herod felt threatened, ordering the death of the firstborn sons of Jews living on his lands. Herod did not want to deal with a new king, even a baby king.

In today’s gospel story that baby king is all grown up. Pilate has heard Jesus was being called “king of the Jews.” Pilate wanted to know if it was true, if that was who Jesus claimed to be. Pilate needed to know if Jesus was a threat to him. Pilate needed to know if Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire.
If Jesus was a threat, the Empire would destroy him. They had the power. They had the personnel. They were well practiced in killing. Thousands of others had been killed on crosses before Jesus.

Pilate asked: Are you the King of the Jews?”

Pilate’s concern was not religious it was political. He was questioning the power Jesus had.

Jesus replied to Pilate’s question with what seems like a riddle: “My kingdom is not from this world…” “…my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

Pilate wasn’t sure what Jesus meant. Pilate needed to know if Jesus was a threat to the Empire. “You are a king then” Pilate replied. Jesus replied “You say that I’m a king” (John 18:37).
What does this mean?

Pilate struggled to understand the kingdom of God known in Jesus Christ… Herod struggled to understand the kingdom of God known in Jesus Christ… people throughout Old Testament history struggled to understand God’s sovereignty long before Jesus walked the earth.

Jonah ran away from God’s rule, Job argued with God’s rule, Moses tried to resist God’s rule. The people of Israel, God’s Chosen, turned away from God again and again and again. They turned toward other gods more easily seen, more easily understood.

Today we honor Jesus as Christ, our King. The kingdom of God isn’t a kingdom established by boundaries and structures—the kingdom of God lives in the midst of things. At the centers and at the edges of the world we find God’s kingdom.

In God’s kingdom, we work for justice for all people.
In God’s kingdom we speak God’s truth of love to the world, we speak God’s truth of love for the world.
In God’s kingdom we don’t just look for goodness we work to make God’s goodness a reality.
In God’s kingdom with don’t wait around for peace to happen we demand God’s peace and we work as peace makers!

God’s kingdom is not “of this world” it is at work IN THIS WORLD. God’s kingdom is sharply focused on the life and the ministry and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. For this I was born and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:36-37).

The truth of Jesus Christ our King is not a theory it is an event. The truth of Jesus Christ our King is not a principle it is a revelation. The truth of Jesus Christ our King is a revelatory event which gives meaning to all the other events of the world. The truth of Jesus Christ our King shines love and grace on every moment that has been, that is, that will be.

This is what is at stake in today’s gospel reading: a kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of God. The rule of God’s grace is confronted by the rules of humankind.
The rules of humankind are most often based on intimidation, on power, on size, on wealth. To live in the light of God’s kingdom is to live in the light of God’s grace, to live in the light of God’s love. To live in God’s kingdom means having a more open and thankful heart. To live in God’s kingdom means to be more open to God. To live in God’s kingdom means to be more open to others. To live in God’s kingdom, ruled by Christ our King means to be more open to the presence of God’s love as that love lives in us and through us.
Jesus Christ is our Sovereign One…
May Jesus reign in our hearts and lives, forever. Amen.

 

Thanksgiving 2018, Wednesday, November 21, 2018

November 21, 2018  
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1 Timothy 2:1-7 

The relationship we have between church and state gets complicated. There is a separation between powers, and yet the two powers inform one another. What the nation decides to do (or not to do) effects the life of the Church. What the Church decides to do (or not to do) effects the life of the nation. And so we dance an interesting dance, weaving in and out and around each other.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages that prayers be made for “everyone,” specifically naming “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). Paul believes that, if we pray for our nation’s leaders and our prayers are answered, those leaders will make decisions that benefit everyone.

Paul makes a good point. National, state, local civic leaders—their status as leaders doesn’t exempt them from God’s care and concern. We ought to keep all of our leaders, elected or hired, in prayer. We pray that our leaders decide wisely; we pray that our leaders have compassion for every person. We pray that our leaders lead us toward peace in our nation and in the world.

And we give thanks.

As I was writing this sermon a woman came into my office for a gas voucher. After receiving the voucher she asked if she could have a hug. Of course she could! She said “Thank you. You don’t know how much you help. You are always there…”

We, as a congregation, are here for our community. What we do seems small but what we do really does help.
And so we give thanks.

A gentleman came in for gas. There was a woman with him who had lost her I.D. and had no money, she was about to be evicted. He needed gas in his car so he could drive her around to find the help she needed. We were able to help him help her.

And so we give thanks.

It is easy to forget that the decisions made by kings and queens, presidents and senators, congress people and alder-people and county board people and everyone else leading governments—the decisions they make effect real people in real time. Their decisions affect us. Their decisions affect others, some of whom are suffering. People who are under-employed. People who have been abused or who are living in their cars. People struggling with illness or addictions. People one step away from crisis—or who are in the midst of crisis. Veterans. The disabled.
And so we pray for our leaders.
And we give thanks for all those things our leaders do that are the right things to do. When they act in error, we pray for forgiveness and for clarity, knowing God loves us all and wants us all to know that love.

We give thanks to God for all that has been, all that is, and all that shall be.
We give thanks to God for the love God has for all people.
And we give thanks to God for God’s love for the world.
Amen.

Pentecost 26 – Sunday, November 18, 2018

November 18, 2018  
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Daniel 12:1-3
Mark 13:1-8

The Apocalypse!
Both of our readings today are about the Apocalypse—
From the Old Testament, the entire book of Daniel is apocalyptic. From the New Testament, the book of Revelation is the most common example. But here we have, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 13. Mark’s take on what Jesus said about end times.

Except, Mark is really writing about what had already happened, and about what was actually happening. As one scholar wrote:

Another way of understanding this text… might be to consider it a radically honest confrontation with reality. According to most scholars, the Gospel of Mark was written in about 70 ce, toward the end of the Jewish revolt against Rome and the year the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Read against this backdrop, the situation in which “Not one stone [of the great buildings of Jerusalem] will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” is happening before their eyes  (Mark 13:2). Rather than shying away from current events and dwelling on false hope, the author is simply telling the truth. He goes on to provide crucial advice that ultimately grounds his message in hope: “Beware that no one leads you astray” (Mark 13:5). (Sundays and Seasons, Pentecost 26 “Theological Reflection”)

The temple had already been destroyed.
Mark was writing what he heard Jesus say about what WOULD happen.
Mark knew what Jesus said would happen was happening.
His first readers/listeners knew what Jesus said WOULD happen was happening.

And so Mark told them, in the midst of destruction and revolt—don’t let anybody lead you astray. And he told them “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 13:7).

A scholar wrote: “…the goal of biblical apocalyptic is not about creating a sense of hopelessness; it’s ultimately about hope” (Sundays and Seasons reference above).

When fires rage all along the western coast of the United States, when caravans of people flee their homelands seeking safety, when wars rage decade after decade in the Middle East, when terrorists seek to create fear with bombs, when people walk into schools and churches and nightclubs and military installations and randomly shoot other people—it is much easier to sink into hopelessness than it is to hang onto hope.

When politicians build walls, not just between nations but between people, it is much easier to be alarmed than it is to reach over the wall and trust one another.

Where do we find our hope?

In Psalm 16 it is written:

8I have set the Lord always before me;
because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

When fires rage we can choose to see: where there is fire, there are firefighters daring to believe in their abilities to fight that fire. And there we find hope.

When caravans of people gather together to flee the violence and destruction of their homelands we can choose to see: the communities along the way that provide the travelers food, that provide the travelers shelter, that provide the travelers comfort. And there we find hope.

When wars rage around the world we can choose to see: residents of warring nations joining hands and reach out to each other in peace. And there we find hope.

When terrorists and armed shooters do what they do to instill fear in the world we can choose to see: those who refuse to be afraid, those who continue to walk out of the doors of their homes and into their schools, into their churches, into their synagogues, into their workplaces. And there we find hope.

When Temple walls were falling and Jerusalem was revolting against Rome—early Christians chose to find their hope in Jesus Christ. Their hope was strong enough to build a faith tradition that is ours today.

Jesus calls us to fight the fires of evil. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry. Jesus calls us to clothe the naked. Jesus calls us to shelter the homeless. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Jesus calls us to never fear, for God is with.

God is with us.
Jesus loves us.
This is our “Blessed Assurance”, forever. This is our hope.
Amen.

Pentecost 25 – Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018  
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Mark 12:38-44

There’s a story that I read a long time ago that I did an online search for—wondering where the story originated and if the story was true.
The story is about King Louis XIV of France.
If you don’t know anything about King Louis, he was born in 1638. Louis became the king of France in 1643—when he was still only 4 years old! Because he became king at such an early age, he was able to serve as king for 72 years—the longest sovereignty in European history. (All facts from Wikipedia).

The story I was looking for is this:

King Louis was the kind of king who thought greatly of himself. In fact, it has been said that he called himself “King Louis the Great.” He had a magnificent court.
When he died, the body of King Louis the Great laid in state in a golden coffin. One candle burned, the only candle lighting the sanctuary of the cathedral.
Thousands of people attended the king’s funeral, sitting in silence, waiting for the service to begin. Then the Bishop began to speak. Reaching out, he snuffed out the one candle that burned near King Louis the Great’s coffin. It is said that the bishop said as he snuffed out the candle “Only God is great.” (Story found on Bible.org/illustration/only-god-great)

I’ve found no evidence that this really happened. King Louis XIV really was king of France and he really did reign for 72 years. But the story of his funeral may be a gross exaggeration.
Yet the story has been told over and over—and here I am telling the story again.
The imagery is powerful—a man who was king almost every day of his life, laid in a gold coffin that laid in a dark cathedral, surrounded by thousands of people, with only a single candle burning.

What a contrast to today’s gospel reading.

Jesus sat in the Treasury, in the temple in Jerusalem. As he taught his disciples he watched person after person put money in the treasury. He watched rich people put in large amounts of money.
Then he saw a woman, a widow.
The woman put two copper coins in the Treasury. Two copper coins. The smallest coin in Roman currency. Similar to one of us giving two pennies.
And Jesus said: She gave more than all the others. Because she gave everything she had.

Jesus gave his life for us. All that he had, all that he was he gave—dying for us. Dying for our salvation.
For God so loved the world.

Which would we rather be?
The king who thought himself to be great, laid to rest in a golden casket?
Or the widow who gave two copper coins to the temple treasury?

This isn’t a stewardship sermon in the traditional sense. I’m not asking you to give all that you have. I’m asking: who are you? What kind of person do you strive to be?

If what we want to be is great, is it a greatness defined by our culture, defined by wealth and power and privilege?
Or do we yearn to be “great” by giving our “selves” up—by sacrificing ourselves?

Scripture is clear. God wants us… God wants all of us… God wants every aspect of our lives to be God’s.

Jesus told the disciples: If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:34b-35).

Does God ask too much?
Is God asking too much of us, when God demands that we deny ourselves, that we give our lives to God?

It kind of feels that way.
I mean really. Who wants to give everything–all that they have, all that they are—away?

Well, the widow in the story did.

How could she?
How could she have that much faith in God? How could she have that much trust in God?

There’s no easy answer to my questions.

What we have before us is an expectation- a clear expectation of how God wants us to live.
Our response is up to us.

Amen.

Pentecost 24 – Sunday, November 4, 2018

November 4, 2018  
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Mark 12:28-34

(AB-Yes! Apostles’ Creed Overview)

There’s an incredible thing happening in today’s reading. Dividing lines are being crossed.
After questioning and suspicion and doubt and outright hostility—one of the leaders of the religious community in Jerusalem and Jesus find commonality. They recognize they share a common belief in God and—at least for a moment—debate is silenced.

Jesus was asked by a scribe “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28).
Jesus answered The first is “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (James 12:29-30).

Jesus’ words echoed the words of the Shema, from Deuteronomy, the words our Jewish brothers and sisters place in their Mezuzahs: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

And then Jesus adds the 2nd: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). His words echo words from Old Testament law, specifically from the book of Leviticus: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

These words aren’t simply statements of moral belief (although they are that), they are statements of faith. They are words that declare “This is what I believe!”
We believe we have one God, one God who created the world, one God whom we promise to love with all our hearts, whom we promise to love with all our souls, whom we promise to love with all our mind, whom we promise to love with all our strength.

This is something we have in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We worship one God—we worship the same God. How we live out our faith in this one God has similarities and differences. But all three religions emphasize love for our neighbors as ourselves.

Divisions between religions have been the bane of our life on this earth. Our differences have created conflicts, have started wars and sustain them. People have been killed, murdered, tortured, persecuted, oppressed, and offended on all sides because of the differences that exist between faiths.

Today’s gospel reading suggests our relationships with those of other faiths ought to be otherwise. Today’s gospel reading suggests we ought to re-discover what we have in common, and to honor what we believe that is the same.

As one scholar writes “Jesus and the scribe are able to transcend the party strife and cross the dividing line of hostility to confess a common faith. Because they join together in the conviction that there is no commandment greater than love of God and neighbor, they are able to treat each other as neighbors… [as so there is] an island of reconciliation in a sea of hostility” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 679).

This world desperately needs islands of reconciliation– we are drowning in seas of hostility. Hostility between political parties. Hostilities between religious groups. Hostilities between different cultures and races. Hostilities between nations. Hostilities between family members. Hostilities between people of different sexual identities. Hostilities between generations. Hostilities between friends.

How do we find common ground?

We can find common ground if we turn to the God we say we believe in and we lift up and celebrate what our God has taught us. God teaches us that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.

When an ELCA teenager, a young white man, enters an African Methodist Episcopal Church, joins the people in bible study and prayer and then shoots nine of them dead, he allowed our differences to blind him.

When a white man enters a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and shoots six people dead, wounding four others he allowed our differences to blind him.

When a Christian man enters a Jewish synagogue allegedly shouting “All Jews must die!” then killing 11 people, including police officers trying to save those worshipping in the temple—that Christian man allowed the differences between faiths to blind him.

We must begin to honor what we have in common. We must create places, create spaces that become islands of reconciliation. W must love our neighbors as ourselves, because we love God with every ounce of our being.

These two loves are statements of faith and love—faith in God and love for self and other.

May it be so.
Let it be so.
Amen.

Pentecost 22 – Sunday, October 21, 2018

October 21, 2018  
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Mark 10:35-45

Last Sunday my niece Tara gave a wonderful sermon on our call to follow Jesus. If you weren’t here to hear it I hope you take some time as I did, to watch and listen to her message online. And while you are at it, if you missed Mark Zellmer’s “temple talk” on stewardship… watch it online. His words were encouraging and hopeful.

Building on both messages, this morning I’m reflecting on the disciples James and John, and their desire for greatness.

To understand their desire, first we need to understand the longings of the Hebrew people as a whole—longings they had been living with for centuries. You see—God had made a promise to the Hebrew people. God promised them a new ruler, a Messiah, a leader who would be the King of kings and Lord of all. As the Hebrew people waited for this promise to be fulfilled, they dreamt of what it would mean for them to have such a leader. They dreamt of a leader who would free them from suffering; they dreamt of a leader who would liberate them from bondage.

James and John and the others who followed Jesus believed, as we do, that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise. They believed, as we do, that Jesus was the new Messiah, that Jesus was the King of kings and Lord of all. Believing as they did they expected that, at some point, Jesus would take his rightful place as the leader of  nation of people. They expected Jesus would have all power, all might, and they wanted to be right there with him, sharing his power and might.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King preached a sermon on this text, and in it he referred to James’ and John’s desire as “The Drum Major Instinct” (from sermon with same title). The Drum Major Instinct is a common human desire for greatness. King believed we all have this desire. In his sermon he took that desire for greatness, and gave it an interesting twist.

Rather than say “No, no, we shouldn’t want to be great, to lust for power” King said “Go for it.” He said (and I quote) “Don’t give up the instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do” (King’s sermon).

As you answer God’s call to follow, as we as a congregation answer God’s call to follow, King’s words are vital:

I want you to be first in love.

I want you to be first in moral excellence.

I want you to be first in generosity.

God wants us to “Say Yes!”

How? How do we do these things? How do we “Say Yes!”?

Jesus provided the answer when he said to the disciples “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said “everybody can be great because everybody can serve” (his sermon cited above).

He’s correct. Everybody CAN serve.

Everybody CAN give. What we give is up to us, but we can do it.

Everybody CAN love humanity. Everybody CAN love the world. Everybody CAN allow love to guide their decision-making.

We CAN allow God’s love to inspire our giving.

Listening to Tara’s sermon from last week, hearing her say that she knew she could follow Jesus by becoming a minister because it is something she saw me do made me think about when I felt called to become a pastor.

I became a pastor because of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Forgive me if I have told you this before. When I was just about 10 years old King died. I saw that he had been shot. I knew in that moment, other people needed to continue to tell the world what he had been telling the world. I knew then—that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a pastor and share God’s word of love.

And so I said “Yes!”

After everything that has happened in my life and ministry, I continue to say “Yes!”

As do you. You are here because you have said “Yes!”

Saying “Yes!” is easy. We are saying “Yes!” to serve.

And as The Rev. Dr. King said “Everybody can serve.”

Amen.

Pentecost 20 – Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 7, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Mark 10:13-16

Let the children come.”

Everybody loves children (or almost everybody). Children are cute. Children are silly. Children are smart. Children are clever. Children surprise us.

When Jesus said to the disciples “Let the children come” most of us probably heard those words and through “Well yes, obviously. We want children here. Let them come.”

Here’s the thing. When Mark’s gospel was written people did not think children were cute, or silly, or smart, or clever, or surprising. In that time, children were worth about as much as a goat. And if someone was milking the goat, or planning to eat it, children were probably worth less! Children were non-persons.

In biblical times, children had no status. They were possessions on their fathers, just as their mothers were possessions of the father/husband. Children were politically, economically and socially dependent. They had not rights unless their fathers chose to give them some.

Which explains why the disciples didn’t want any children bothering Jesus. The children were in the way. The children were unimportant. The children had no reason to be near Jesus. The disciples saw the children as interruptions, as disruptions.

Then Jesus said “Let the children come.”

His words would have shocked anyone there to hear him.

Let the children come.”

To Jesus, those children were real people.

Jesus said Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Do not mistake this. Jesus isn’t telling us we have to be cute or silly or smart or clever or surprising. Jesus is telling us no one has merit. No one has special status. None of us deserve all of the love and grace God showers upon us. And yet  God loves us. God loves each and every one of us. Always and forever, God loves us.

Like the children in this gospel story, who depended on their fathers for any kind of right or privilege, we are radically dependent on God. God favors us with grace and peace and love.

In gospel times, children were “non-persons.” Who might the “non-persons” be in our time and in our lives. Who are the people we tend not to see? Is it the person who picks up our garbage? Or the person cleaning the toilets? Or is it the person we pass on the sidewalk, whose eyes we don’t meet? The person in the grocery store in line ahead of us? The person standing at a stoplight with a sign, asking for money? They have no name… they have no authority over us. Who are they?

Who are the people we tend not to see?

They are we.

This isn’t one of those “there but by the grace of God goes I.” This is a “There I am.” I am he. I am she. I am they.

You are, I am the most powerless person we know, You are, I am the least rewarded person we know. You are, I am the abandoned. The forsaken.

We all stand before God as equals, receiving the same love. Receiving the same grace. Receiving the same forgiveness.

There is no room for arrogance in God’s kingdom. There is no room for privilege in God’s kingdom. There is no room for those who patronizingly sneer at others, or ridicule others, or abuse others, or disregard others, or regard others as less than… believing this is what God would have them do.

God would not. We must not.
We must
Let the children come.

Amen.

 

Pentecost 19 – Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

Mark 9:38-50

This is a tough text…
I don’t mean tough to figure out I mean tough to hear.
This text calls us to examine ourselves. This text calls us to look inside ourselves, to see our sin, and to make every effort to turn things around. And—we are called to do those things not necessarily for ourselves (although it might save us from a lifetime of suffering), but for others.
Jesus does not want us to become stumbling blocks for others. He doesn’t want us to get in the way of others who are trying to live as his followers.

The disciples saw someone “casting out demons” in the name of Jesus. The person doing the “casting out” wasn’t one of them, wasn’t a disciple. So they tried to stop him.
The disciples’ attempts to silence the man smack of arrogance. He wasn’t a member of their group—he was an outsider. He needed to be stopped.

There’s an ethical theory known as Cultural Relativism which teaches that moral decision-making is dependent upon our cultures. So, what might be morally correct in one culture could be morally incorrect in another. The goal of the theory it to teach both respect and tolerance.

Applied to today’s gospel reading, the theory would tell us:
The disciples have created their own cultural identity. Their culture tells them they have a certain knowledge of right and wrong. Their knowledge of right and wrong tells them: only they can cast out demons in Jesus’ name.

The other man thinks it is ok for him to cast out demons. No one knows how or why he believes he believes this. The theory says, whatever the roots of his belief, He can believe his actions are ok. He has that freedom.

According to the theory, what the disciples and the man casting our demons need to recognize is that they each have different moral beliefs on the subject of casting out demons, and then respect those different beliefs. Cultural Relativism calls them to co-exist, respecting their differences.

The problem with Cultural Relativism is exactly the point Jesus made to his disciples. Sometimes what we think is right, or what our culture or group tells us is right, is actually wrong! According to Jesus, the disciples were wrong in their thinking because their thinking led them to believe there is only one way to do things: their way. Which meant other people weren’t being given the chance to minister in the name of Jesus.

The disciples were being exclusive. They were being arrogant. They were becoming, in the language of Jesus, stumbling blocks.

The reason we are having a service of Corporate Confession and Forgiveness today is because of what Jesus tells the disciples to do. He tells them to stop calling other people out for what they are doing, and to look inside themselves. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they doing? If what they think, feel, do causes themselves or others to stumble, they need to cut it out.

Literally.
Stop it.

And so we are told to look inside ourselves. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? What are we doing? If what we think, what we feel, what we do causes us to stumble, and more importantly causes others to stumble, we need to cut it out.

Maybe, like the disciples, we think our way of doing things is the only way to do things.
Cut it out. Be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Our arrogance will kill us.

What Jesus offers the disciples, and what the gospel offers us by telling this story, is a new way of living. He offers, the gospel story provides a moral principle—a statement of belief we can base our decisions on.

Jesus believes “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

Jesus is trying to expand the disciples’ vision of community.
May we, as we examine our hearts and minds and actions, expand our understandings of community. May we open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of doing.

None of us wants to be stumbling blocks.
We want to be loved and we want to be loving.
Thanks be to God, God does love us. And God forgives us our sin—even as God calls us to do and to be better.
Amen.

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